Geo-strategic importance and military significance

Essay add: 21-03-2016, 16:05   /   Views: 26

1. Central Asia lies in the heart of Eurasian continent and is landlocked. It borders Iran and Afghanistan to the south, China to the east and Russia to the North and West, the Hindu Kush and Pamir mountain ranges in the south and Tien Shan mountains in the east. Central Asia still holds importance to those around it and beyond - compelling everyone to think in a zero-sum game of who will control the region next, following Makinder's thesis of "he who controls the heartland controls the world". Central Asia, in its reordered geopolitical form, has emerged as a field of continuing interest and concern in India, particularly in the context of its strategic relevance to India's security.

Central Asia's location as a region of the world

(a) Main rivers. Although thousands of rivers start in the mountains, in Central Asia there are only two rivers which travel for any length and finally reach the land locked Aral sea i.e. Amu Darya and Syr Darya. The land between these two rivers which comprises of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, have produced the main developments of the Central Asian history and culture. Both these rivers formed formidable frontiers for the ancient world. The Amu Darya divided the Persian and Turkish empire. The same river later formed the frontier between the Czars and the British empires. The Syr Darya formed a northern barrier protecting Central Asia from nomadic invasions from Mongolia. Major bodies of water include the Aral Sea and Lake Balkhash, both of which are part of the huge west/central Asian endorheic basin that also includes the Caspian Sea. Both of these bodies of water have shrunk significantly in recent decades due to diversion of water from rivers that feed them for irrigation and industrial purposes. Water is an extremely valuable resource in arid Central Asia, and can lead to rather significant international disputes.

(b) Mountains and Deserts. All the mountains ranges of Central Asia converge at the Pamirs, also known as the Pamir Knot or the roof of the world. In the 18th century, the Pamirs were called the 'Third Pole', because they were so unknown. The Hindukush, Karakoram, Tien Shan and Kunlun ranges radiate out in different directions from here. In the centre of the region lie two of the largest deserts in the world. The Karakum desert or 'the desert of black sands' spanning 350,000 square kilometres covers much of Turkmenistan. To its North is the Kyzlkum or 'the red sand' desert over an area of one and half times the size of Great Britain. Despite scarcity of water, both these deserts are home for some of the toughest tribes in the world.

(c) Ferghana Valley. At the heart of Central Asia is the fertile Ferghana Valley, once a cohesive economic unit but divided in the 1930s by Stalin between Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kirghizstan. It is 300 kilometre longitude and 170 kilometre wide and its history has made it the political and the Islamic nerve centre of Central Asia. With a population of seven million, it is the region's most densely populated area with vast areas of cotton and grain cultivation. Due to the past exploitation of this region, the problems being faced today are acute shortage of water, drying up of lakes and seas, pollution and environmental catastrophes brought on by dumping of nuclear waste.

Geographical Dimension

2. A unique feature of the location of this region is that it is totally land locked. Even the access of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to the Caspian Sea does not give them access beyond their immediate neighbours. This region is also unique in that it is enclosed by more frontiers than any other region in the world - the frontiers of Russia, China, Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan meet in Central Asia. Central Asia may, therefore, more appropriately be called as a zone of convergence of the major geo-cultural regions of Eurasia, with its secular interactions spanning both these continents.

3. The region has been divided and tied under various political boundaries but it had natural resources but never the sendentary population to exploit.It has been the battleground of various world powers for supremacy.It has withstood the sweep of Hans,Islamic sways of the 'Chalifat', torn between capitalism and communism, and has been the flower bed to the 'Colour Revolution'. The enigma continues with sudden rush by the world as well as regional powers.

4. The importance of this region is also contributed to the fact that it is located next to what may be termed as a geo-strategic melting pot, West Asia. The cross currents of Arab-Israeli rivalry, intra-Arab hostility and the conflict between Iran and Iraq, have all combined to keep this oil rich region in a state of continuous turmoil and instability, leading to periodic wars. In the changed geo-political environment, it is not entirely unlikely that the CAR may now be dragged into these conflicts, with some scholars already talking in terms of a greater Middle East.

5. Central Asian region has the potential to be the linchpin and gateway to West Asia, East Asia, South Asia and Russia from the West. Similarly, the influence of its neighbours on the region is directly related to their ability to provide the region with access to the sea. For example, Turkey's advocacy of their modern and liberal model of Islam vis-à-vis Iran's has not really succeeded because of Turkey's lack of economic clout and the absence of any outlet into the sea. In comparison, Iran and Pakistan are better endowed. Iran provides Turkmenistan access to the port of Bandar Abbas. The nearest port to the region is Karachi, at 2720 kms from Dushanbe, raising hopes in Pakistan of emerging as the gateway to Central Asia. China, with a 5000 km longitude border with the region, is potentially the most important player in the region.

6. From the geo-strategic point of view, all CAR states fall within the parameters of Russia's security cover. Their independent statehood rests on the bedrock of the geo-strategic understanding with Russia. The geo-political factors in the region are expected to operate within this particular geo-strategic framework where Russia ensures the protection of the Central Asian Region and the established borders.

7. Chinese and Indian quests for energy are complicated by their mutual competition for greatness. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh echoed this fact by saying, "China is ahead of us in planning for its energy security. India can no longer be complacent." China and India add to the pre-existing energy-driven melee in Central Asia that pits the US against Russia. Russia has been ably countering the American attempt to 'free' Central Asian oil and gas from the Russian stranglehold through a proposed Trans-Caspian Pipeline. The Sino-Indian scramble for Central Asian energy works under the larger rubric of a Russo-American 'new Cold War'. Islamic fundamentalism is a new factor motivating great powers to seek leverage in Central Asia. The anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s unleashed a powerful tool of political mobilisation based on jihad. From Afghanistan, the virus of violent Islamism spread to the Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyzs and Turkmens, turning the entire area into a nursery for global terrorism.

8. India's involvement dates back through British Raj when Great Britain was involved in limiting the influence of USSR by engaging in the 'Great Game'. After partition Pakistan went in an overdrive with championing the common cause of Islam after the break up of USSR and US involved in the fight against terrorism along Pakistan ,the focus shifted from economics to militancy. The growing regional powers found an opportune time to cash in the opportunity of gaining an assess to Central Asian oil.

9. It is interesting to note that the means being employed by both the world powers and regional powers are different such as one leveraging economics and infrastructure whereas the other using security and stability however the goal remains singular that of milking the energy resources to bridge there growing energy deficit.

India's Military Interest

10. The significance of this region for India's security is immense. It is close to areas where scores of camps for jihadist and anti-India terrorist groups are based, and it is in the proximity of territory where Pakistan and China are engaged in massive military cooperation. Besides, Tajikistan is in Central Asia, a gas-rich region in which India has growing interests.

11. There are several reasons underpinning India's interest in a base at Tajikistan, one being the Pakistan factor. The Pakistani incursion at Kargil in 1999 laid bare the failure of Indian intelligence and opened India's eyes to the need for a military presence outside its borders , such a presence in Tajikistan, India realized, would enable it to monitor anti-India activities in the region.

12. After the fall of the Taliban regime, India was determined not to lose the foothold it had gained in Afghanistan thanks to its ties with the Northern Alliance in the late 1990s. Delhi was anxious not to allow Pakistani influence to grow again in Afghanistan. This was behind India's decision to remain at Ayni/Farkhor after the fall of the Taliban,. A military base in Tajikistan is attractive as it also enhances India's options in the event of war with Pakistan. From Tajikistan, India would be able to strike Pakistan's rear.

13. It is its presence at Ayni that has enabled India to play a significant role in Afghanistan's reconstruction and stability since 2002. Since Pakistan does not allow India overland access to Afghanistan, India has had to channel its economic and relief assistance to Afghanistan through Farkhor. The IAF airlifts supplies to Ayni, which are then transported to Farkhor and onward to Afghanistan by road.

14. India's growing military profile in the region might have been prompted by the need to counter Pakistan's influence, but there is more to Ayni Air Base than India-Pakistan rivalry. A base at Ayni enables India to project power in Central Asia. It is testimony to the fact that India is no longer content with a geostrategic role in South Asia; its ambitions extend outside the region as well.

15. India's foray into Central Asia is also fuelled by its interests in the region's vast gas reserves. India is among the actors in the "New Great Game" - the scramble for Central Asia's resources. Though India remains powerless to engineer or overtly influence the 'New Game', its size, military and nuclear capability make it a not altogether insignificant part of the complex jigsaw puzzle. Not surprisingly, India's "forward policy" in Central Asia has generated unease in Islamabad and Beijing. Pakistan has perceived India's air base at Ayni as part of the Indian attempt to "encircle Pakistan".

References

Central Asia - National Interests and Regional Prospects Johannes F. Linn,pdf,[email protected]

Colour Revolution,Wiekipedia,http:www/wiekipedia.com

Op.cit J Lind

Salman Haider,The Afghan War and its Geopolitical Implications for India,2005,Academy of Third World Studies, Jamia Milia Islamia,New Delhi.

Sreeram Chaulia,India's Central Asian Struggle,pdf

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